Am I a follower of the Way of Jesus? Do I see myself as a follower of the Way, a disciple of Jesus or as a member of a church? I know it makes a difference.
The early Messiah followers were referred to by a variety of names and terms that suggests a development of identity. The early followers of Jesus considered themselves “disciples” or members of “the Way”.
The Essenes also used the term “the Way” to describe their identity as a true and faithful representation of Israel’s traditions. First-century Jews referred to the Church as a “sect” — a term Josephus used in reference to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes). The most common term used in reference to the early church in the New Testament is “church” or “assembly” (ἐκκλησία, ekklēsia). While this term most often referred to local assemblies of believers, it could also apply more broadly to a large body of disciples.
“The Way” is mentioned several times in the book of Acts in connection with early followers of Jesus. It was to take prisoner men and women who “belonged to the Way” that Saul of Tarsus went to Damascus. After Saul was converted, he became a missionary and went by the name of Paul. In Ephesus, Paul met some in the synagogue who “became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way”. Paul left the synagogue and continued to preach the good news message where it would be heard rather than remain with those who denigrated the Way.
During his trial before Felix, Paul said, “I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect” (Acts 24:14). We are also told that Felix knew about the Way. It seems that the Romans considered the Way to be a sect of Judaism rather than a separate religion.
The early followers of Christ referred to themselves as followers of the Way because of Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 that He is “the way and the truth and the life.” Luke says that Aquila and Priscilla explained to Apollos “the way of God” more fully (Acts 18:26). Peter refers to Christianity as “the way of truth” (2 Peter 2:2). And the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus’ broken body is the “new and living way” for us to enter the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 10:19–20).
Today there are various Bibles that include The Way in their titles. There is also a book by Josemaria Escriva, founder of the Catholic Opus Dei, titled The Way. Additionally, there is a cult called The Way or The Way International.
- Acts 9:2 (NASB) —And asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
- Acts 19:9 —But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.
- Acts 19:23 —About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way.
- Acts 22:4 —“I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons,
- Acts 24:14 — “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets;
- Acts 11:26 —And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called disciples in Antioch.
- Acts 24:5 — 5 “For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.